How not to build a transfer-based network

How not to build a transfer-based network

What Halifax Transit missed

In 2016, Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together Plan was approved by Council, with the aim to redesign the network to be a simplified, transfer-based network. Though there was skepticism, there was ultimately a good amount of support behind a transfer-based system as well.

Seven years later (with a plan not yet  finished), why is one of the most common complaints we hear related to transfers? Whether it’s a trip requires too many transfers, or transfers aren’t consistent, or transfers take too long, on and on and on, it’s clear something went wrong between the original vision and what’s on the roads in Halifax today.

Let’s backup to the original Moving Forward Together Plan. On Page 14, Section 1.5.2 Consultation Summary highlights the original goal for the network and the preference for transfers in Halifax Transit’s network.

Based on public engagement, a common agreement was to invest in the higher ridership corridors, while recognizing the importance of coverage in lower ridership areas. Most participants ultimately agreed on maintaining or increasing key services in the off-peak periods. Participants were in strong support of a transfer based network, contingent on the following conditions being met:

  • The frequency of connecting transit services is high
  • The use of transfers make the total trip time faster
  • There is appropriate infrastructure so that passengers are comfortable while waiting for their transfer
  • Service is reliable so that connections are not missed

So… how well did Halifax Transit meet their criteria?

Frequency of connecting transit services is high:

On weekdays, only 8 routes in the entire network achieve consistent frequency of better than 30 minutes throughout the service day: routes 1 through 7, plus the 9. Only some of these routes meet the standard definition of frequent service, a bus every fifteen minutes. Many routes in the network run at a frequency of 30 minutes or worse for a good part of the service day. On weekends, frequency drops off further.

Transfers make the total trip time faster:

Due to low frequency (and a lack of reliability as we’ll see below), many commutes now either take the same amount of time or more, with one or sometimes two transfers. There’s a lot more to say on trip time, which we’ll try to unpack in another post.  

Appropriate infrastructure so that passengers are comfortable:

Many bus stops lack even basic shelter or seating, and in the few cases they have them, they’re often too small to comfortably hold all the waiting passengers. Overcrowded stops with little to no seating along Spring Garden Road and Barrington immediately come to mind. Additionally, many major terminals where transfers are supposed to take place are laughably insufficient. Mumford Terminal, and concrete slabs such as Cobequid Terminal or Penhorn Terminal are examples of what your standard Halifax Transit infrastructure looks like. Busy on-street transfer points, like Joseph Howe Drive near the Superstore, sometimes have just a single shelter.

Service is reliable:

Most of Halifax Transit’s routes don’t come close to their target of 85% on-time consistency, especially during rush hour traffic. Paired with ongoing staffing issues plaguing the network with sudden cancellations, Halifax Transit’s reliability is arguably at an all time low since well before the Moving Forward Together Plan rolled out.

Halifax Transit set these criteria themselves. Unfortunately, they have not provided route design, infrastructure, frequency, or service quality that live up to their own criteria. If they had delivered on these promises, the public perception of transit and the Moving Forward Together Plan would be much better. The simple fact is they have not really delivered a transfer-based network. Doing so could have revolutionized Halifax Transit by making it dramatically more useful and convenient. As author Jarrett Walker points out, true transfer-based networks aren’t a hassle – they can be great

Riders and residents deserve better. Halifax Transit’s current network doesn’t even meet their own criteria. It isn’t really designed to be a convenient, transfer-based network. It certainly doesn’t meet the standards for good transit: fast, frequent, reliable and user friendly. But don’t let your complaints go unheard, share your thoughts with us, and we’ll make sure they’re heard.